I would offer several suggestions in all seriousness: look to Islam for guidance on economic and financial reform, and look to science fiction (and particularly Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy) for guidance on political and cultural reform. People might think I'm offering pie-in-the-sky suggestions, but many people have thought long and hard on all of these issues. For example, Robinson's work highlights some of the negatives and positives of both the current and future political and cultural systems. When Gorbachev writes, "But I am convinced that a new model will emerge...", everything that follows in Gorbachev's sentence has already been discussed in the Mars Trilogy.
I would not offer these suggestions as solutions ready made to be implemented directly, but I do believe that both can be used as the starting points for discussion on how to solve some of the world's problems.
Here are some of the highlights from the essay:
In the West, the breakup of the Soviet Union was viewed as a total victory that proved that the West did not need to change. Western leaders were convinced that they were at the helm of the right system and of a well-functioning, almost perfect economic model. Scholars opined that history had ended. The "Washington Consensus," the dogma of free markets, deregulation and balanced budgets at any cost, was force-fed to the rest of the world.
But then came the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, and it became clear that the new Western model was an illusion that benefited chiefly the very rich. Statistics show that the poor and the middle class saw little or no benefit from the economic growth of the past decades.
The current global crisis demonstrates that the leaders of major powers, particularly the United States, had missed the signals that called for a perestroika. The result is a crisis that is not just financial and economic. It is political, too.
The model that emerged during the final decades of the 20th century has turned out to be unsustainable. It was based on a drive for super-profits and hyper-consumption for a few, on unrestrained exploitation of resources and on social and environmental irresponsibility.
But if all the proposed solutions and action now come down to a mere rebranding of the old system, we are bound to see another, perhaps even greater upheaval down the road. The current model does not need adjusting; it needs replacing. I have no ready-made prescriptions. But I am convinced that a new model will emerge, one that will emphasize public needs and public goods, such as a cleaner environment, well-functioning infrastructure and public transportation, sound education and health systems and affordable housing.
Elements of such a model already exist in some countries. Having rejected the tutorials of the International Monetary Fund, countries such as Malaysia and Brazil have achieved impressive rates of economic growth. China and India have pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. By mobilizing state resources, France has built a system of high-speed railways, while Canada provides free health care. Among the new democracies, Slovenia and Slovakia have been able to mitigate the social consequences of market reforms.
The time has come for "creative construction," for striking the right balance between the government and the market, for integrating social and environmental factors and demilitarizing the economy.